Hiking/Camping with Children in the Pac NW: Choosing a Destination

Here’s the start of a one week series on hiking and camping with children in the Pacific Northwest. Most of our camping experiences have been in the Western Washington area so the information you’ll find here will be catered to that, but hopefully there will be tips and tricks you can take elsewhere. Additionally, we have not been known to be “family campers” so you’ll see we err on the light packing side.  If you are planning on staying at designated campground areas where your car will be nearby, you should certainly bring items you know will keep you comfortable for the duration of your stay.

As a side note: While some of this information can be used for basic survival, this series is not intended to educate you on survival techniques.

Monday: Choosing a destination
Tuesday: Keeping your family warm and what to wear
Wednesday: Feeding the clan and staying hydrated
Thursday: Providing shelter
Friday: Having fun in nature

“Where should I take my family to camp?” This is a question I hear time and time again. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t all that simple. My first response is “What kind of camper are you?” And that’s usually followed up with “Do you want to be near your car? How do you envision your sleeping arrangements? How far do you want to hike? Are you worried about children being close to water? Do you want to see other people when you’re on your trip or be completely secluded?” The answers to these questions have a major impact on my suggestions for a destination.

Here are my three categories of hikers/campers:
* Family campers – these are the people who will probably want some of the following items for their stay: an air mattress, lantern, table and cooler for their food, some kind of toilet, music, seating area.
* Hike-In campers – these are the people who have a destination in mind (usually 1-5 miles away from their car) that they will hike to, setup camp, spend a day or three and then head home.
* Backpackers – these are the people who are going on a multiple day and multiple mile long trip. They will setup camp at more than two places along their journey and they are hopefully experienced enough to know what and how to pack going into their trip. (I’m not going to cover backpackers in this series as they have already been there done that. If you’re a backpacker hopefully you’ll find a trick or two here.)

First things first; pick the category you fall into. You can change down the road, but for planning purposes you should know what kind of camper you’re going to be for this trip. Then decide how secluded you would like to be on your trip, whether or not you’re worried about being near a lake or the ocean, if you’re going to bring a pet and how far you want to hike (or not) to your destination.

Resources to Washington State Parks:
Washington State Parks
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Forest
North Cascades National Park
Washington Trails Association

You’re probably going to have a general distance you’re willing to travel. Check out some maps of an area of interest and then hit these sites and find some trails and campsites in that area. Pare your results down to a few that interest you the most and then look at those places via satellite on Google maps, research rules (such as food storage, building fires, etc.), find out if they take reservations, if you need a permit, what season is the best to visit (eg. high elevation in the winter is going to guarantee snow) and what condition the trails are in. If you’re going to the ocean get a tide chart. If you’re going to mountainous areas make sure the roads leading to your destination are intact. Try to think these things through… it’s one thing to be unprepared when it’s just a couple of adults camping, it’s another to be shocked by a high tide when your tent is setup on the beach when you have three kids staying with you.

Some of our favorite hike-in camping spots:
* Shi Shi Beach
* Lena Lake
* Ozette Loop
* The High Divide Loop
* Second Beach

We’ll be back tomorrow with some advice on how to keep your family warm and what to wear on your travels outdoors.

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